It is sometimes suggested that in certain positions taken by Ellen White she was influenced by the thinking of the times, that her statements reflected the ideas of those about her, and that we must take this into account when we evaluate her writings and use them today. Akin to this was the early-day suggestion that the visions resulted from natural causes, mesmerism, spiritism, or physical injury. In later years the shift was to the suggestion that most likely she was influenced by her associates.
Early in her experience, hypnosis was much in the public eye and it was suggested to Ellen Harmon that, when the visions were given to her she was mesmerized. Some asserted, She is a weak woman, easily influenced and therefore a good subject for mesmerism. This troubled her and she went into the woods to pray, and while alone in the woods, visions would be given to her. When she told the people of this, they declared, You mesmerize yourself.
* This material was presented at the North American Academy Principals' Council held at Blue Mountain Academy, Hamburg, Pennsylvania, June 27, 1965.
Ellen pondered, has it come to this? The next time she discerned that a vision was about to be given to her, she resisted it. I'll not have it, she said to herself. It is mesmerism! Like Zacharias of old, who was stricken dumb for his doubts, she was stricken dumb because she doubted. She was taken off in vision, and in the vision she was shown that never again should she question, never again should she doubt, and that in less than twenty-four hours she again would be able to speak. She reached for a slate and wrote concerning her experience and her condition. The next day she was able again to speak, but never again did she question or doubt her experience. See Early Writings, pages 22-24.
Dr. Brown and the Visions
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As our preachers went into Parkville, Michigan, some thirty miles southwest of Battle Creek, in 1860, and held evangelistic meetings, the people were told, among other things, about the visions given to Mrs. White. A spiritualist physician lived there, a certain Dr. Brown. He had boasted that he could explain it all in terms of spiritualism. He asserted that the visions that were given to Ellen White were just a form of spirit-mediumship, and that if he should ever be present when she was in a vision, he could bring her out of it in just one minute. That's all the time he would need.
An Adventist church building was erected in Parkville in 1860 and was dedicated on Sabbath, January 12, 1861. Elder and Mrs. White, Elder J. N. Loughborough, Elder Uriah Smith, and some others went down from Battle Creek to be present for the service. In connection with the afternoon meeting, Ellen White was taken off in vision. Elder White always gave ample opportunity for any who wished
to examine Ellen White while in vision to do so, and this time was no exception. He asked whether there was a physician who could be called who could examine Mrs. White while in vision and report to the people as to her condition. Remembering his boast, the people urged Dr. Brown, who happened to be present, to respond and conduct the examination.
Dr. Brown began to examine Ellen White but soon turned deathly pale and began to shake all over. Elder White asked, Will the physician please report to the congregation concerning his findings?
Oh, he said, she does not breathe, and he started for the door. When he got near the door, the brethren blocked it and said, Go back and do like you said you would. You said you could stop the vision in one minute. Oh no, he replied. Well, what is it? they asked. God only knows, he replied. Let me out of this house. He jerked the door open and ran.
Charged With Being Influenced by the Brethren
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The visions given to Ellen White could not be controlled by herself or by others. She could not have a vision if she wished to, nor could she refrain from having a vision if she did not wish to have it. It was entirely in the hands of God, entirely beyond any human influence about her. But as I have mentioned, in later years it was suggested, perhaps kindly, You know, Sister White is not too strong, and she is surrounded by men of strong intellect and character. There is her own husband, James White, George I. Butler, Dr. John Kellogg. In later years, they talked of W. C. White, and of her being influenced by him.
If the messages borne by Mrs. E. G. White had their origin
in surrounding minds or influences, then the Spirit of Prophecy has no claims on our allegiance. If the messages on organization can be traced to the ideas of James White or G. I. Butler; if the counsels on health have their origin in the minds of Drs. Kellogg, Jackson, or Trall; if the instruction which came on education was based upon the ideas of G. H. Bell or W. W. Prescott; if the high standards upheld in the Spirit of Prophecy counsels were inspired by the strong men of the cause, then the Spirit of Prophecy can mean no more to you or to me than good ideas and helpful advice.
The Bible Prophets and the Question of Influence
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The suggestion that the prophets were influenced by others is nothing new in the history of inspiration. The scriptures in Jeremiah 43:1-3 bring to us just such a picture. Jeremiah was the Lord's messenger to Judah. He had borne a solemn message to the leaders of Judah.
Note the words: And it came to pass when Jeremiah had made an end of speaking unto all the people all the words of the Lord their God, for which the Lord their God had sent him to them, even all these words, then spake Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the proud men, saying unto Jeremiah, Thou speakest falsely: the Lord our God hath not sent thee to say, Go not into Egypt to sojourn there: but Baruch the son of Neriah setteth thee on against us, for to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans.
Jeremiah had borne Heaven's message to the people. One of the leaders got up and said, Jeremiah, you are a liar. Baruch, your secretary, wanted you to say that, and you said it. God never gave you the message. History, however, made clear that the message came from God.
There is another interesting story that has a bearing on
this topic, found in 2 Chronicles 18. We find Jehoshaphat was king of Judah and Ahab king of Israel. Jehoshaphat was a man of God, Ahab was not. A marriage between the families had taken place, and an alliance between the two kingdoms was formed. Jehoshaphat should not have permitted this, but he had. There came a day when there was to be a family reunion in Samaria, and Jehoshaphat took his family and went over to Samaria, and took part of his army along for review and all that goes with kingly visits.
Ahab thought this would be a good time to go out and fight his enemies, for with Jehoshaphat in Samaria, he had some reinforcements. He proposed to Jehoshaphat that they go up and fight his enemies. Without first seeking divine guidance, Jehoshaphat replied, I am as thou art, and my people as thy people; and we will be with thee in the war.
But then Jehoshaphat thought better of it and said to Ahab: Enquire, I pray thee, at the word of the Lord to day (verse 4). So Ahab called in his 400 prophets. They knew what kind of answer Ahab wanted, and they said, Go up; for God will deliver it [Ramoth-gilead] into the king's hand.
Jehoshaphat knew that these men were false prophets, so he turned to Ahab and said, Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might enquire of him? (verse 6). And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, by whom we may enquire of the Lord: but I hate him; for he never prophesied good unto me, but always evil: the same is Micaiah the son of Imla. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so. Jehoshaphat evidently made it clear to Ahab that he would get nowhere with his enterprise without hearing from Micaiah first. So an officer was called and sent to Micaiah's home to summon him to come and prophesy concerning the proposed expedition.
The messenger who went to call Micaiah knew the answer
that had been given by the 400 false prophets. He knew his master, and he knew that if Micaiah was unwise enough to prophesy disaster to Ahab's enterprise, he would probably lose his head. Thinking to do Micaiah a kindness, the officer advised him to give Ahab a favourable reply. But Micaiah fearlessly replied, As the Lord liveth, even what my God saith, that will I speak (verse 13).
It made no difference to Micaiah what his reply might mean to him personally. There was only one answer he could give when he went before the king. There were a few bantering words of introduction, and then Micaiah predicted disaster to the enterprise and death to King Ahab. At this Ahab turned to Jehoshaphat and said, Didn't I tell you he would prophesy evil and not good? Officer, take Micaiah. Put him in the dungeon, feed him bread and water till I come back victorious. But Ahab never came back. He died on the battlefield that day. The point is, God's prophets were not influenced.
Ellen White on the Question of Influence
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In 1893, one of our brethren wrote to Sister White. He thought she did not understand a certain matter, and he was going to straighten her out. She wrote back to him and said, You think individuals have prejudiced my mind. If I am in this state, I am not fitted to be entrusted with the work of God.Selected Messages, book 2, p. 63.
On one occasion back in 1850, one of our sisters told Sister White about one of the ministers and some of the things he had done that he should not have done. It was not long after she related these facts to Ellen White that a testimony arrived for this minister. When the sister who had reported to Sister White heard about this testimony she felt chagrined and said to herself, I shouldn't have told Sister White those things. She then sat down and wrote a letter to Ellen White
and told her she was sorry she had said anything and thought she shouldn't have told her all those things.
Ellen White wrote as follows:
What if you had said ever so much, would that affect the visions, that God gives me? If so, then the visions are nothing. God has shown me the true state of Brother [the erring minister]. I know from the vision that his influence has been bad. What you or anyone else has said is nothing at all. God has taken the matter in hand. What you have said, Sister , influenced me not at all. My opinion has nothing to do with what God has shown me in vision.Letter 1, 1851.
The Question of Influence and the Early Books
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The great controversy vision was given to Ellen White at Lovett's Grove, Ohio, on March 14, 1858. Shortly thereafter at meetings in Battle Creek over a weekend, she told the high points of what had been shown to her in that vision. Elder J. N. Andrews happened to be in Battle Creek at the time, and he was very much interested in what Ellen White related. After one of the meetings he came to her and said, Sister White, some of the things you have told us sound to me quite a bit like a book I have read. Then he asked, Have you ever read Paradise Lost? She said, No. Well, he said, I think you would be interested in it.
She forgot about the conversation, but a few days later Brother Andrews came to the White home with a copy of Paradise Lost and left it with Ellen White. She was busily engaged in writing out what had been shown to her, and she took the book, hardly knowing just what to do with it, looked at it, but didn't open it. She took it to the kitchen and put it up on a high shelf, determined that if there was anything in that book similar to what God had revealed to her in vision she was not going to read it until she had first written out what the Lord had revealed to her. Her subsequent
writings indicate that later she did read at least portions of Paradise Lost. Thus, for example, one phrase from this work is quoted in Education.
But to go back. Ellen White proceeded with the writing out of the great controversy story as she did in Spiritual Gifts, volume 1 (now available in a facsimile reprint), without first reading Paradise Lost. This volume of Spiritual Gifts is a little book consisting of 219 pages. It merely touches the high points of the great controversy story as we have it now in the last part of Early Writings. The vision created in her mind a deep interest in the history of the Reformation. After completing Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, within six months of the time of the vision, she turned to some of the histories. In the vision she had seen essential portions of this history. The vision brought to her new light on the whole matter of the conflict between the forces of righteousness and the forces of evil. With that interest, the White family read for worship in the next several months most of D'Aubign's History of the Reformation. They observed with interest those things that were in harmony with what had been shown to her.
So when in 1884 she was rewriting the great controversy story more fully as it was presented in Spirit of Prophecy, volume 4, and then later was carried into The Great Controversy, she quoted from some of these historians. She tells us that she did so not because she was dependent upon them for the information which is there presented but because their presentation afforded a ready and forcible presentation. As a matter of convenience she had made use of such quotations. She explains this in the third from the last paragraph in her introduction to The Great Controversy.
When the health reform vision was given to Ellen White on June 6, 1863, she began to tell the people about what had been shown to her. Of this she wrote in 1867:
As I introduced the subject of health to friends and spoke
against drugs and flesh meats, and in favour of water, pure air, and a proper diet, the reply was often made, You speak very nearly the opinions taught in the Laws of Life, and other publications, by Doctors Trall, Jackson, and others. Have you read that paper and those works? My reply was that I had not, neither should I read them until I had fully written out my views, lest it should be said that I had received my light upon the subject of health from physicians and not from the Lord. I did not read any works upon health until I had written Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 3 and 4, and Appeal to Mothers, and had sketched out most of my six articles in the six numbers of How to Live.Review and Herald, Oct. 8, 1867.
If you are familiar with these publications, you will recognize them as the basic early writings on the subject of health. The six articles in How to Live are now in the Appendix of Selected Messages, book 2.
After having written out the basic presentation as it was made to her, Ellen White and her husband read with interest what had been written by physicians who were pioneering in the field of physiology and nutrition, and they measured what they read by the light given to Ellen White. Some things they could accept, because it was in harmony with what had been shown to her; other things they could not accept.
It should be pointed out that the Lord did not show Ellen White how to give fomentations, but the Lord did make it clear to her that water was a very important agency to be employed in the recovery of the sick. The Lord never gave the visions to take the place of initiative, of study, of hard work, or of faith. The principles were set forth in vision. The Spirit of Prophecy pointed the way. Then they studied what others were doing in health lines to find out in a detailed way how to apply these principles.
Ellen White in her books does not tell how to give fomentations. The Whites did apply in their own personal experience what they learned from others in these matters. In
1867 she wrote, speaking of the subject of health, My views were written independent of books, or the opinions of others (MS. 7, 1867). Either this statement is true or it is not. If it is true, as Seventh-day Adventists believe, Ellen White's teachings on health were not derived from doctors, but came from God.
In this connection it should be pointed out that God is the Author of the laws of nature, and if men through their painstaking research and experimentation discover those laws or if God reveals them through vision through His servant, there is bound to be harmony. Both came from the same source. So we need not be dismayed if we find some similarity between the writings of Ellen White and of physicians leading out in reforms.
The Visions Give Significance
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As noted in Chapter 1, Seventh-day Adventists have never claimed to be the originators of all the principles of health reform they hold. This was acknowledged in the article appearing in the Review and Herald of August 7, 1866, written by Elder J. H. Waggoner and quoted in The Story of Our Health Message, pages 79, 80. (See pages 39, 40.) Waggoner points out that there are others who are working in the field of reform in health, but when the Lord calls these things to our attention in the visions given to Ellen White, they take on special significance to us, to be received with the blessing of God, or rejected at our peril.
What is said concerning this in the field of health reform might also be said in the field of education. It is well known that there were those in a few places who were leading out in educational reforms in advance of Ellen White. However, it was the visions given to her that drew our attention to these things and the importance of these things that made them a
part of the Seventh-day Adventist philosophy and working program. We have valued highly the work that others have done, but these things take on significance to us because of the visions given to Ellen White.
Some people have been perplexed about this fact. They have said, Yes, it isn't new, and so how do we know that Ellen White got it from God? To those who might say Ellen White was influenced by those about her, let's bring in a little illustration.
Salt Provides an Illustration
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The Whites had great respect for Dr. R. T. Trall, a physician in New Jersey who was leading out in reforms in the matter of diet, the care of the sick, and so forth. He was not a Seventh-day Adventist. John Kellogg went over in 1872 to take medical training at Dr. Trall's. He spent six months there. In those days medical training was largely apprenticeship rather than study. Then Dr. Kellogg went on from there to New York, to Bellevue, at the expense of James and Ellen White, and got the best and most thorough medical education that could be had in North America. James and Ellen White were determined that if we were entering the medical field, our work must stand at the very top. They felt that a religious body of four or five thousand people could not afford to enter the field of medicine unless they had a work of high quality. It would have been natural, if Ellen White was influenced by those who were about her, to have been influenced by Dr. Trall, because of her high regard for him, but not so.
In the Health Reformer (our monthly health journal) of July, 1869, there is a page or two given over to questions and answers provided by Dr. Trall. One question was Is it all right to eat a little salt? Dr. Trall, a scientist,
gave the answer: Salt being a poison should not be used at all. That was the counsel that went out in our medical journal. But what did Ellen White write?
I use some salt, and always have, because from the light given me by God, this article, in the place of being deleterious, is actually essential for the blood. The whys and wherefores of this I know not, but I give you the instruction as it is given me.Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 344.
Here Ellen White tells us that the Lord gave her instruction in regard to salt. It is essential to the blood. Of course anyone today who understands blood chemistry knows why it is essential for good health. This was not understood in Ellen White's day, and she frankly acknowledged: I don't know why, but I am giving to you that which God has given to me. That was the basis of the position she took in opposition to the view that was held by one who was influencing many Seventh-day Adventists.
Since salt is essential to good health, shall we eat a lot of it? No. In 1884 in the Review and Herald she wrote, Do not eat largely of salt. (See The Ministry of Healing, p. 305.) Why not? Probably the reason was not revealed to her. She simply sounded a caution.
Now note the scientific confirmation:
In 1956 at Brookhaven National Laboratory, scientists checked on fellow employees, and found that of 135 who never added salt to their food, only one had unexplained high blood pressure; of 630 who added salt sometimes after tasting food, 43 had the disease; among 581 who always added salt without bothering to taste, 61 had it.Time, April 30, 1956.
Who told Ellen White about salt years and years in advance of the discoveries of nutritionists and physiologists? Was it Dr. Trall? Or was it the Lord? The answer seems evidentEllen White was not influenced by the erroneous opinions of others.
Attempts to Influence Ellen White
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Although Ellen White was not influenced by the erroneous opinions of others, there were some of her brethren who nevertheless tried to influence her. For example, there was a leader in Europe who when she visited Europe in 1885-1887 was heading up our work in the Scandinavian countries. Ellen White, visiting Stockholm, Sweden, wrote in her diary:
Brother [the leader's name] suggests that it would please the people if I speak less about duty and more in regard to the love of Jesus. But I wish to speak as the Spirit of the Lord shall impress me. The Lord knows best what this people needs. I spoke in the forenoon from Isaiah 58. I did not round the corners at all.Manuscript 26, 1885.
In 1892 while Ellen White was in Australia, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg wrote a letter to her in which he expressed his observations concerning the question of influence:
There are so many who are ready to say that Sister White has been influenced to do or to say this or that. I often hesitate about writing to you concerning things I would like to write to you about, so that in case remarks of that sort are made I can say with the utmost of confidence that there had been no possible opportunity for you to be influenced by me at any rate. It has been to me a source of more confidence and satisfaction than I can express to you, that I have often seen in my acquaintance with you and your work, wrong set to right through the special leading of your mind by the Lord.
I used often to make a test in my mind, saying nothing to anybody. I would say to myself, Now here's an evident wrong. Sister White knows nothing about it, or if she knows anything about it, the circumstances are such as would produce a personal prejudice in favour of the wrong rather than against it. If the Lord leads her to denounce and correct this evil, I shall know that she is being especially led. In not a single, single instance did the test fail, and so my confidence grew. I mention these facts very often to those whom I find doubting.J. H. Kellogg Letter to Ellen White, September 9, 1892.
Within the next ten years, Dr. Kellogg lost his way in pantheistic philosophy. He lost his way in the concept of the medical missionary work as it related to Seventh-day Adventist work as a whole. Medical missionary work had been set before us as the right arm of the message, but Dr. Kellogg began to envision it as the whole body and he the head. He, in spite of his earlier declarations, also seemed to forget that Ellen White was not influenced by his opinions or the opinions of others.
In 1902 Dr. Kellogg thought he had an opportunity to influence Ellen White, and he set out to do just that. If there was any man in this denomination who could have influenced Ellen White, John Harvey Kellogg was the man. The White family and the Kellogg family grew up together. James and Ellen White had sent John to medical school. He stood firm for the principles of health reform as set before her and as she had set them before the world. He led out in our medical work.
In 1901 Arthur G. Daniells was elected leader of the church. The next year Daniells planned a council in Europe, and Dr. Kellogg was asked to attend. After the council Kellogg began to look around in England for property for a sanitarium. He had been leading out in establishing some sanitariums here and there. Sister White had called for the establishment of small medical institutions, and he felt the time had come to begin in England. He found a very acceptable property and cabled Elder Daniells, who was in Germany, to come and look at it. Soon after, Elder Daniells came over and looked the property over. He was pleased with it. It could be purchased for some thirty or forty thousand dollars. Daniells told Kellogg that he was pleased with the property, and he asked, Where will you get the money? Oh, Kellogg replied, I'll get the money from the General Conference.
Now at that time the General Conference was virtually bankrupt. It had more obligations than it had assets. Up to this time, our work had not been operated on a budget. We had borrowed money to send missionaries overseas. Heretofore Dr. Kellogg had been particularly skilful in persuading the General Conference Association to assume large indebtednesses on the sanitariums that he began around the United States. However, when Daniells came into a position of leadership, he declared that the church could not continue to operate on a deficit program and that we must have the money before we spent it. He was determined to bring to a stop the procedures that resulted in ever-mounting debt.
With this in mind Daniells told Kellogg that the General Conference did not have the money. He said, Doctor, when you find the money I am willing that you should move forward and purchase this institution. Dr. Kellogg replied, We will get the money from the General Conference. Elder Daniells said, No, John, the General Conference does not have the money, and we cannot go on into debt. When you find the money, you can go ahead. Kellogg replied, I'll get the money from the General Conference and I'll show you! Soon afterward the two men parted, not in the best of spirits. Elder Daniells went back to Germany, and Dr. Kellogg took the boat for New York and from there went by train to Battle Creek.
On the way Kellogg planned his strategy. He knew, of course, of Ellen White's burden for the medical missionary work and of her many appeals for this kind of service. He determined he would get her on his side. He would write a letter to her and in the strongest possible light place before her the wonderful opportunities that lay ahead of us if we only purchased the property in England, and pointing out that the only thing standing in the way of availing ourselves of this golden opportunity was Daniells' stubbornness.
When Dr. Kellogg got to Battle Creek he called in his secretary and began dictating a letter to Ellen White. When he got to ten pages he was only nicely started. On page 20 he was well into his subject. Finally on page 71 (the letter was double spaced) he signed his name and sent the letter to Ellen White, who was at Elmshaven in California. He left nothing out that would influence her to favour what he was planning and to see Daniells' unreasonableness and narrow-mindedness.
In due time Elder Daniells returned from Europe, and when he got to the General Conference office in Battle Creek, his secretary, who happened to be a close friend of Dr. Kellogg's secretary, told him about the 71-page letter that had been written to Ellen White and what was in it. As Elder Daniells related the story to me he said, I could just feel the blood pressure rising. He declared to himself, That's not fair, that's not right, that's not just.
At the close of the day he went home, and after supper he took some sheets of paper saying to himself, I must give Sister White my side of the story. And he wrote a page, and a second page, and he was beginning the third page when he thought, What am I doing? If Ellen White is God's prophet, I don't need to tell her anything about this. He tore the sheets to bits and threw them in the wastebasket. He said nothing to anyone, but in his heart he pondered, How will Sister White receive me when I see her at Oakland in California at the General Conference session a few weeks from now?
The time came to go to the session. Elder Daniells crossed the continent to Oakland and went to the Pacific Press, then in Oakland, to pull things together for the opening of the conference the next day. (We held no precouncils in those days.) As night drew on, the burden of the meeting rolled upon his heart. There were great issues at stake. He
knelt to pray there in the Pacific Press office room. As the burden of the cause swept over his heart he agonized with God. The next thing he knew he was prostrate on the floor clutching at the floor boards pleading with God to save His cause. All night he prayed. Then as the beams of the sun shone through the window in the morning, the impression swept over him as clearly as if a voice had spoken to him, If you stand by my servant till her sun sets your sun will not set in obscurity.
Elder Daniells arose, went to his room, cleaned up, got ready for the session, and then went to greet Ellen White, welcoming her to the conference. He knew she was in Oakland, and he knew where she was stayingin a cottage she had rented not far from the church where the session would be held. It was a beautiful spring day. The door to her cottage was open, and as he stepped up on the porch he noticed that Ellen White was in the kitchen at the end of the hallway, so he opened the screen door and walked down through the hallway. She heard him coming. She got up and came into the hall, saw who it was, and reached out her hand warmly and grasped his hand, and said, Elder Daniells, we are in a crisis. Every man must stand true to principle. We can't concede now.
This was enough for Elder Daniells. He knew by her firm handshake and the tone of her voice that Ellen White had not been influenced one whir by Kellogg's letter. At the conference Elder Daniells received her steadfast support.
At that conference Kellogg, angered, told Daniells, You think you've got a General Conference. You come back to Battle Creek and I'll show you who has a General Conference. Soon afterward Kellogg did call a great medical missionary congress, with about three times the number of delegates as had attended the General Conference of 1903. But as for his letter influencing Ellen White to support his position,
all his arguments had not moved her by one hair's breadth. W. C. White, her son, observed this fact also.
Ellen White Refrained From Certain Reading
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No, Ellen White was not influenced. She was careful not to read certain things. In a letter written in 1887, she declared:
I have not been in the habit of reading any doctrinal articles in the paper, that my mind should not have any understanding of anyone's ideas and views, so that not a mould of any man's theories should have any connection with that which I write.Letter 37, 1887.
Again, from another letter:
Sara [McEnterfer, Ellen White's travelling companion and private secretary] tells me that she has a letter for me from you, but I tell her not to give it to me yet; for I have something to write to you before I see your letter. You will understand this.Letter 172, 1902.
Another such experience is recorded in 1905. Writing to a brother she said:
You may blame me for not reading your package of writings. I did not read them, neither did I read the letters that Dr. Kellogg sent. I had a message of stern rebuke for the publishing house, and I knew that if I read the communications sent to me, later on, when the testimony came out, you and Dr. Kellogg would be tempted to say, I gave her that inspiration.Letter 301, 1905.
This experience makes it clear that Ellen White refrained from reading what might be thought to influence her.
In Special Testimonies to the Review and Herald Office she wrote in 1896:
Unbelief is expressed by the words Who has written these things to Sister White? But I know of no one who knows them as they are, and no one could write that which he does not suppose has
an existence. Some one has told me,He who does not falsify, misjudge, or exaggerate any case.Page 16.
Again in 1903 she wrote:
Some, in their self-confidence, have dared to turn from that which they knew to be truth, with the words, Who has told Sister White? These words show the measure of their faith and confidence in the work the Lord has given me to do.Review and Herald, May 19, 1903.
At another time she wrote:
Some are ready to inquire: Who told Sister White these things? They have even put the question to me: Did anyone tell you these things? I could answer them: Yes; yes, the angel of God has spoken to me. But what they mean is: Have the brethren and sisters been exposing their faults?Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, pp. 314, 315.
A Significant Experience in Australia
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My father in his long association with Ellen White usually refrained from telling his mother certain things. He was a member of the General Conference Committee from 1884 to the close of his life in 1937, with the exception of four years while in Australia. He knew what was going on in the cause, but he seldom told her about the problems that existed. He would bring to her the good reports, the encouraging things, but seldom the problems.
He reasoned that if he brought the problems to her and the Lord then gave her light on that point and she wrote it out, some would say, W. C. White tells his mother, and she has a vision, and writes a testimony. It was his custom, therefore, not to tell Ellen White the problems that confronted the cause. In the late 1890's Ellen White and her son were in Australia, starting the college at Cooranbong. Times were very hard financially. During one crisis the problems were so large that the school board met over a period of several days.
W. C. White was chairman of the board, and he knew that often when leading men were wrestling with problems in committees the Lord would open up those matters to Ellen White in vision. Each morning before walking over to the college to meet with the board W. C. White would stop at his mother's home, ask about her health, and hope that she had some message of guidance for him.
The second or third morning she inquired, Willie, how are you getting on? He replied in general terms, Quite well, Mother. She said, Willie, what are your problems, what are you dealing with? Oh, he said, Mother, I shall not tell you. If the Lord wants you to know He'll tell you. She said, Willie, I want you to tell me what you are doing on the board. He said, No, Mother, I shall not tell you. If God wants you to know, God will tell you.
Then she took him by the lapels of his coat as a mother would a little boy and pulling him close she said, Willie White, I want you to tell me what you are doing at the board meeting. He said, Mother, why do you ask? She replied, I have been shown that when you get to a certain place in your deliberations, I am to come in and bear my testimony. I want to know where you stand. He told her briefly, and she said, Today isn't the day. I will come in a little later. She recognized that by the next day or two they would get to the point where her message should be given. At the right time she went in and bore her testimony.
This kind of situation placed W. C. White in a difficult position. He had to be very careful. Often before Ellen White had had time to write out a vision she would tell those about her what she had been shown. At times many months were involved in writing what was shown in a single vision. But frequently after a vision she would bring out in conversation certain principles that had been revealed to her. Often it would happen that a little later my father would be in a
committee meeting where the church leaders would be facing the same kind of problems as Ellen White had seen in vision. How could he do otherwise than let his influence be felt along the line concerning which he had heard his mother speak? Yet when she wrote out the testimony, frequently some said, Willie White said that in committee, and now his mother comes out with a testimony. She gets her inspiration from him. This situation was not easy to explain to those who wished to doubt.
Mrs. White's Literary Assistants
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There were others who were prone to say, Well, Sister White has her editors. How can we be sure of what she did write?
It is true that Ellen White did have literary assistants. She valued their help highly. She wrote in a statement now in Selected Messages, book 1, page 50:
While my husband lived, he acted as a helper and counsellor in the sending out of the messages that were given to me. We travelled extensively. Sometimes light would be given to me in the night season, sometimes in the daytime before large congregations. The instruction I received in vision was faithfully written out by me, as I had time and strength for the work. Afterward we examined the matter together, my husband correcting grammatical errors and eliminating needless repetition. Then it was carefully copied for the persons addressed, or for the printers.
Then of subsequent years she said:
As the work grew, others assisted me in the preparation of matter for publication. After my husband's death, faithful helpers joined me, who laboured untiringly in the work of copying the testimonies and preparing articles for publication.
But the reports that are circulated, that any of my helpers are permitted to add matter or change the meaning of the messages I write out, are not true.Ibid.
One faithful helper who assisted her for 25 years was
Marian Davis, a sister-in-law of Will K. Kellogg of corn flake fame. On this question of the work of her assistants in helping her with preparation of her books Ellen White wrote:
The books are not Marian's productions, but my own, gathered from all my writings. Marian has a large field from which to draw, and her ability to arrange the matter is of great value to me. It saves my poring over a mass of matter, which I have no time to do.Letter 61a, 1900 (quoted in Messenger to the Remnant, p. 60).
One of Mrs. White's secretaries, Fannie Bolton, declared in 1901:
The editors in no wise change Sister White's expression if it is grammatically correct, and is an evident expression of the evident thought. Sister White as human instrumentality has a pronounced style of her own, which is preserved all through her books and articles, that stamps the matter with her individuality. Many times her manuscript does not need any editing, often but slight editing, and again a great deal of literary work; but article or chapter, whatever has been done upon it, is passed back into her hands by the editor.Messenger to the Remnant, p. 60.
It would have been an unprofitable use of Ellen White's time were she to attempt to do all the painstaking work of a copy editor. Ellen White had three years in school. The Lord did not miraculously instruct her in all the rules of writing, teaching her spelling and telling her where to put in all the commas, and so forth. She valued highly the help of skilled literary assistants, who were instructed closely as to what their work was. They would copy the material, and if they found a misspelled word it would be corrected. If they found an imperfection in grammar they would correct it. Ellen White one time said that there is no salvation in misspelled words and poor grammar.
If there was repetition, the statements would be brought to one place. If there was redundancy of words, a synonym might be used. But the copied material would come back to Ellen White triple spaced, and she would read it over
carefully and edit it. She often added a bit here, strengthened a statement there, put in quotation marks the copyist left out, corrected a word the copyist had misspelled, and so on. Then it would go back to the copyist to be recopied. It would come back to Mrs. White, and she would look it over carefully and sign it. She might even edit it further, and it would be copied again. She was ever endeavouring to find the best and clearest way of setting forth the truths that had been opened to her mind, that they might reach the people in a way that would accomplish their work effectively.
Ellen White was instructed as to whom she could trust as literary assistants and whom she could not trust. Two individuals who worked for her were dismissed, one of them three times, when Ellen White in vision was warned that they were tempted to change the writings as they passed through their hands. God was controlling the worknot a mechanical control, but His hand was over it. I have heard my father say that Mrs. White's secretaries would as soon put their right hand in the fire and have it burned off as they would think of changing the messages that passed through their hands as they went from Ellen White to the people. Ellen White had no ghost writers. She was fully responsible for what went out under her name.
Does the Expression I Saw Give a Clue?
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In her earlier writings Ellen White frequently employed the words I saw or I was shown, and she continued to do so until her death. Some readers would evaluate the writings as inspired or uninspired, depending on the use of such phrases. As pointed out elsewhere, Ellen White deliberately chose to omit such phrases in her books that would come before the general public lest the reader unfamiliar with her call and work be distracted from the message she was presenting.
Inasmuch as her writings were based on the visions God gave her and she assumed that everyone understood this fact, she frequently presented light and instruction without employing such phrases. We present an illustration:
Dores Robinson was a young man 21 years of age. His father was the president of the Australasian Union Conference. A physician in South Africa where Dores had previously resided had promised to put him through the medical course at Edinburgh, and he had studied there a couple of years. Then the doctor's finances failed, and he had to withdraw his help from Dores. So in 1900 Dores was in Australia doing secretarial work for Ellen White. His first work was copying the manuscript of Christ's Object Lessons.
His uncle, Elder E. W. Farnsworth, working in Australia, proposed: Dores, we have no children. You have started the medical course. If you want to go on, my wife and I will see you through.
What a generous offer that was! Dores went to talk with Ellen White about it. Would it be the wise course to follow? He visited with her for half an hour and then walked out of the room with absolutely no intimation from her as to whether he should or should not go on with the medical course. He was right where he was when he went in to see her.
Consequently, he made up his mind to accept his uncle's offer. On Wednesday he went down to Sydney and made his booking to go the next week to Europe. He was back at Sister White's office on Thursday. Friday was to be his last day. As he went in he picked up from the typewriter a long envelope addressed Dores Robinson. He opened and read it. It began, You asked me at one time what I thought in regard to your becoming a physician. I would say that the most useful lessons for you to learn will not now be found in taking a medical course of study. She went on to point out
that with his physical stamina, with his mental frame of mind, to pursue the medical course would leave him a physical and mental wreck. She pointed out that he should choose a lifework of a different nature entirely.
What should he do? He looked carefully all the way through that letter to see whether he could find some such expression as I saw or I was shown. He could not find one. There was nothing to indicate special light from God.
Well, he said, this is good counsel. I should get exercise. I will get some exercisers and I'll exercise and I'll walk. But in his heart he was not at all clear. He decided to make a test of the matter. As he prayed about it he made up his mind that he would go back down to Sydney, and if he could get his travel money back, all of it, he would take that as a sign that he should not go on with the medical course. On Monday morning he took the train and rode three hours to Sydney. He went directly to the booking office, and as he approached the counter he said, My name is Robinson. Oh, Mr. Robinson, the clerk replied, we're sorry, we had to cancel your booking. The British Government has commandeered the boat for troop movement to the Boer War. We think we can get you on a later boat, or we can give your money back. He replied, I'll take my money back.
Now Ellen White told his father, Elder Asa T. Robinson, that in vision she saw an angel standing by the side of Dores saying to him what she said in that letter. But in the letter there wasn't an intimation that there was any special illumination. However, he knew, when he talked with her a few days earlier that she had no counsel to give and now the letter did contain counsel. This testimony, part of which may be found in Medical Ministry, changed his lifework.*
* Note: Dores Robinson taught church school; served many years as one of Mrs. White's secretaries; married her eldest granddaughter; served in school, publishing, and mission work; and then until his retirement served in the White Estate.
But what if she had no light? Did she speak or was she silent?
For example, Dr. B. E. Fullmer, who resided in southern California, had some new ideas about the 144,000. In the year 1914 he was teaching that the 144,000 would all be from America and none from any other country. The union conference president, Elder Elmer E. Andross, wanted to know whether there was anything that Ellen White had written that would help the conference in dealing with this teaching. He wrote to Sister White's Elmshaven office and made inquiry. Elder Clarence C. Crisler, the secretary in charge, took the matter to Sister White. Her comments were taken down stenographically. I have no light on the subject, she declared.
Please tell my brethren I have nothing presented before me regarding the circumstances concerning which they write, and I can set before them only that which has been presented to me.C. C. Crisler Letter to E. E. Andross, Dec. 8, 1914.
This is a significant statement. We would expect her to slap down the foolish teaching. Instead she said, I have no light on the subject, and I can set before them [her brethren] only that which has been presented to me.
Ellen White's Acknowledgment
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I can assure you that when you read the counsels, when you read Ellen White's books, you may know, except for the purely biographical material, that what she has there set forth was based on the visions that God gave her. She said once in connection with the question of who told Sister White:
There are those who say Someone manipulates the writings. I acknowledge the charge. It is One who is mighty in counsel, One who presents before me the condition of things. I have an Elder Brother on the throne, who has paid an infinite price to redeem the human race from the curse of sin.Letter 52, 1906.
Yes, Ellen White declared, there are those who say that I am influenced; I acknowledge the charge. It is true. The one who influences me is Jesus Christ.